[GIVEAWAY UPDATE: The lucky winner of Serve Yourself is…Ivy Manning. I liked everyone’s answers, so in the end I decided to write all the entrants’ names on slips of papers, toss them into a bowl and let my son pull one out without looking. Not very scientific, but at least it was objective. Thanks for your great comments. I enjoyed reading about what you all like to cook for yourselves.]
My friend Joe Yonan and I share a small obsession. And by small I mean the object of our obsession is small, not necessarily the obsession itself:
Smoked oysters. Yes, those sweet-salty-smoky-chewy things that are packed tightly in tins and look (rather unappetizingly) like tiny preserved organs. Those smoked oysters. I can’t tell you how glad—relieved, really—I was to learn this about Joe, because I had always thought my affection for smoked oysters a little offbeat and not shared by many others. How often do you encounter a smoked oyster anymore?
Back in the 1970s when I was growing up, there were always tins of smoked oysters (and mussels and clams) in our pantry. I’m not even sure why. I grew up in an Italian family, and smoked oysters are certainly not part of that culinary lexicon. It may have just been the times. Whenever my parents threw a dinner party, out would come the Danish hors d’oeuvre tray, with its smooth wooden frame and three rectangular bowls. My mother would fill one bowl with her sweet and sour chicken livers, another with olives, and the third with smoked oysters. Out, too, would come the small metal two-tiered toothpick stand, which held two dozen or so miniature sword-shaped toothpicks (complete with tapered blades and itty-bitty handles). These we used to spear the oysters.
I hesitated going into the living room when company was in there, but I couldn’t resist the oysters so I would slink in, skewer as many as I could on one of the tiny metal blades and, to the disapproving glances of my parents at my piggishness, slink back out. Long after I left home I retained my fondness for smoked oysters. I might forget about them for months, even years, at a time, but then out of nowhere an intense craving would hit, sending me to the grocery store for a tin (or two or three).
I’ve known Joe for awhile—he is the editor of the Washington Post’s food section, for which I write occasionally—but I did not know he shared my affection for this retro appetizer ingredient until I turned to page 127 in his new book, Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures In Cooking for One. Behold: a recipe called Avocado, Smoked Oyster, and Pistachio Bruschetta. I consider myself a fairly creative cook, but I have never done anything with smoked oysters beyond spearing them with toothpicks and popping them in my mouth, or—at most—plopping them onto a cracker.
I asked Joe what it is about smoked oysters that appeals to him. Here’s what he said: “For me, the love goes back to my college days, when I was looking for cheap but filling things to eat besides those 10-for-$1 ramen noodles. I started making my way through the canned-fish aisle. The oysters immediately captivated me with their slight funkiness and mineral taste, not to mention smoke, of course. I’ve always been such a fan of anything smoked, from my earliest taste of those Blue Diamond smoked almonds to of course the heights (and depths) of true low-and-slow barbecue.” Put this way, our little obsession not only sounds perfectly reasonable, but downright practical.
I thought about giving my copy of Joe’s book to someone who is single. But you know what? I like it too much. The recipes are thoughtful and eclectic—with chapters on pizza, sandwiches, and tacos, among other subjects—and most can easily be multiplied to feed my family. Plus, during the day when I am the only one at home, I do cook for myself. So I have a selfish reason for keeping it, too. Besides, I couldn’t possibly part with a book that features a recipe called Avocado, Smoked Oyster, and Pistachio Bruschetta. There is nothing I don’t adore in that lineup.
Just about every ingredient in this recipe is rich—the oil-slicked oysters, the buttery avocado, and the sweet pistachios. But these same ingredients are also filled with good things; vitamins and minerals, good fats, protein. And a scattering of chopped briny green olives on top is just enough to cut the richness. One or two slices of this bruschetta makes a meal, and if you have a nice glass of Soave or Falanghina to accompany it, so much the better.
Cookbook Giveaway: I have a copy of Joe’s book to give away to one lucky person. To enter, just post a comment here telling me what your favorite dish is to cook for yourself. The winner will be announced on April 13.
From Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One, by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press)
- 2 tablespoons raw shelled pistachios
- 1 (3-ounce) tin smoked oysters in olive oil, drained
- 1/4 teaspoon pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
- 2 thick slices rustic-style bread
- 1/2 very ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
- 5 or 6 large green olives, pitted and chopped
- Fleur de sel or other best-quality flaky sea salt
Heat the pistachios in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until they are very fragrant and starting to brown in spots, 2 or 3 minutes. Immediately transfer them to a bowl to stop the cooking.
In a small bowl, toss the oysters with the pimenton.
Preheat the broiler with the rack set 4 to 5 inches from the flame or element. Broil the bread on one side until very dark brown, even slightly blackened in spots, 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Divide the avocado flesh between the two bread slices and spread with a knife. Top with the oysters, then the green olives and pistachios. Sprinkle with a little salt, and eat.